OPRF science students sweep Junior Science and Humanities Symposium competition

Five Oak Park and River Forest students swept the oral presentation competition at the prestigious 44th Annual Chicago Region Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). This is the first time in the history of the JSHS that all five finalists have come from one school. In order of placement, first through fifth, they are Elise Scheuring, Sarah Katz, Veronica Brooks, Margaret Kennedy, and Simran Chambers.

The students presented their findings -- in the form of a 12-minute PowerPoint presentation -- to a panel of expert judges via the Zoom video conferencing app, on March 14. The symposium was originally scheduled to be held at Loyola University Chicago, but was changed to the digital platform due to concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19. The first, second, and third place finishers will receive scholarship money, and all five finishers will move on to compete at the National JSHS in Norfolk, VA., in April.

This year also marked the highest number of OPRF students ever named oral presentation finalists: 12 total, up from three last year. Joining Scheuring, Katz, Brooks, Kennedy, and S. Chambers were: Meera Chambers, Montgomery Ellwanger, Aaron Freeman, Olivia Kratz, Sarah Pilditch, Emma Roskopf, and Natalie Serratos

To be considered, each student had to write and submit a formal 30-page research paper for review by professional scientists. More than 8,000 high school students in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Department of the Defense Schools of Europe and the Pacific Rim submit research for consideration each year.

All 12 finalists are enrolled in the Investigative Research Design and Innovation (IRDI) class at OPRF, taught by science teacher Allison Hennings and supported by librarian Amber Hooper. IRDI students spend the school year designing and implementing a unique research project to address a particular gap in published scientific research. They work collaboratively with expert mentors in their fields of research throughout the process. Here are summaries of each finalist’s research:

Elise Scheuring (two-time finalist), “The Application of Advanced Oxidation in Municipal Water Reclamation Using The Fenton Reaction Enhanced With B-Cyclodextrin and Isopropyl Alcohol to Remove.” Studies have shown that the presence of pharmaceuticals in waterways causes many impacts on organisms including stress, endocrine disruption, and even cancer. Elise explored the use of an advanced oxidation reaction to remove pharmaceuticals from a synthetic wastewater.

Sarah Katz, “Re-administration of Different Doses of Tetracycline and Ciprofloxacin in Combination Therapy to Pre-treated Escherichia coli to Determine if Antimicrobial Resistance Occurs.” Sarah investigated the effects of consecutive antibiotic treatments on bacterial resistance, determining that E.coli exhibit a dosage dependent resistance.

Veronica Brooks, “The Antidiabetic Effects of Resveratrol Alone or in Combination with Piperine in Type 2 Diabetic Wild-Type Drosophila melanogaster as a Basis for a Novel Treatment.” Veronica developed a novel treatment for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) through the use of type 2 diabetic Drosophila melanogaster and a resveratrol (RSV) and piperine (Pip) combination treatment, which could be prescribed for the more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes today.

Margaret Kennedy, “Tissue Transplantation Along the Anteroposterior Axis of Dugesia dorotocephala as a Model for the Treatment of Liver Cirrhosis via Stem Cell Therapy.” Current treatment for late stage liver cirrhosis requires a liver transplant. Margaret’s experiment explored stem cell regeneration in the model organism called planaria as a potential novel therapy to treat liver cirrhosis.

Simran Chambers, “The Novel Application of Coenzyme Q10 and Nitric Oxide as a Combination Pharmaceutical Treatment for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema as Expressed Through Hypoxia in Caenorhabditis elegans.” Simran’s experiment aimed to create a more widely accessible treatment for high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), the most common cause of death due to high altitude exposure.

Meera Chambers, “The Exposure of Gryllodes sigillatus  to Varying Environmental Temperatures in Order to Ascertain the Impact on  Bacterial Density as an Indicator of Biodiversity.” Global warming can be expected to decrease the overall biodiversity on Earth. Meera’s goal was to assess the effect of increased temperature on the bacterial density of G. sigillatus.

Montgomery Ellwanger, “The Effects of Resveratrol on the Motor Function of Bisphenol A Induced Motor Neuron Degeneration of Danio rerio Embryos.” Montgomery’s experiment addressed the need for an alternative treatment to motor neuron degenerative diseases such as ALS, by using resveratrol, a natural compound found in grape seeds.

Aaron Freeman (two-time finalist), “The Effect of Urban Storm Runoff Water on CO2 Emissions From Soil at a Local Constructed Wetland as a Method of Determining the Environmental Sanctity of Urban Wetlands with Respect to Climate Change.” Aaron investigated the applicability of the soil priming effect (a change in the soil bacterial metabolism) in an urban constructed wetland affected by polluted storm water. Wetlands are important ecosystems for the regulation of the earth’s climate because they naturally store carbon in the soil, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would contribute to climate change.

Olivia Kratz, “The Impact of Sharklet and Circular Micropatterns on the Growth of S. cerevisiae as a Model to Improve Central Venous Catheter Design.” Olivia aimed to develop a novel micropattern that could be placed on invasive devices to limit fungal growth, which is especially important to patients that are immunocompromised and at a higher risk of developing opportunistic fungal infections.

Sarah Pilditch, “The Use of Flavonoids Against Inflammation Induced Escherichia coli in Danio rerio as a Potential Novel Method to Prevent Neonatal Meningitis and Neurological Damage.” Sarah aimed to develop a novel, natural treatment for bacterial infections -- specifically bacterial meningitis induced by E. coli -- in neonates, through the use of zebrafish embryos and flavonoids derived from green tea and grape seed.

Emma Roskopf, “Using Molecular Dynamics in Order to Model the Anisotropic Growth of High Temperature Superconducting YBCO Nanobridges.” Emma aimed to optimize the direct formation of superconducting nanobridges using computer and mathematical modeling in order to improve the availability and cost of SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference devices). Her findings could improve the process of detecting cancer cells early, especially those found in dense breast tissue.

Natalie Serratos (two-time finalist), “Cloning Escherichia coli to Serve as an Analog Recorder of Tetrathionate within the Gastrointestinal Microbiome as a Basis for Mutation Detection.” The aim of Natalie’s experiment was to develop a novel preventative healthcare device for the gastrointestinal microbiome.

Learn more about the JSHS program here.